Word Counts, Query Letters, and Synopses, OH MY!–My guide to tackling the bane of every writer’s existence!

Not only is this my first blog post for this new blog, but it’s my first post for 2017: the year to top all years. Oh man, I’m so fricking excited. You guys have no idea. Seriously. NO idea. There are so many BIG things planned for this year, it’s going to blow your minds!

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That’s not what this blog is about, though! HAHA! Sorry for getting you all syked up and then being like, “No!” But trust me, if you’re a writer, you’ll want to read this. I’m going to be discussing the three biggest issues I see as an Acquisitions Editor–words counts, query letters, and synopses.

Now, there’s a good amount of debate among the writer/publishing community as to the “correct” information for these three things. So, in this blog, I’ll be giving you my thoughts and ideas on each one, and an overview and guide to how I do things.

Let’s begin with word counts.

While the word count of a manuscript is highly flexible, there are general parameters for each category/genre. Many times overly low or overly high word counts can send up red flags to editors and agents.

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Flash Fiction: 100-500 words

Short Stories: 1,000-8,000 words

Novellas: 20,000-40,000 words

Children’s Picture Books: 500-700 words

Children’s Chapter Books: 10,000-25,000 words

Middle Grade: 25,000-40,000 words

Young Adult: 50,000-80,000 words

New Adult: 60,000-85,000 words

Literary Fiction/Commercial Fiction/Women’s Fiction: 80,000-110,000 words

Crime Fiction: 90,000-100,000 words

Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense: 70,000-90,000 words

Romance (and all sub-genres): 40,000-100,000 words

Fantasy: 90,000-120,000 words

Paranormal: 75,000-95,000 words

Horror: 80,000-100,000 words

Science Fiction: 90,000-125,000 words

Historical: 100,000-120,000 words

Nonfiction: 70,000-110,000 words

Like I said, these word counts aren’t set in stone, but they’re pretty solid guidelines if you’re wondering where you should aim for your manuscript.

Now on to the literal bane of every writer’s existence: The Query Letter.

If you’ve ever even attempted to write a query letter before, you know after about thirty seconds you tend to feel like this:

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And don’t worry, we all feel that way. Which is why I’m going to give you an awesome query letter writing guide that I use, not only for my own work but to help guide my authors to better writing.

First, there are a few general rules to remember about the query letter.

  • They should be between 250-300 words in length. Anything over that and you’re probably going to lose the attention of the agent/editor. We have a lot of submissions to read through every day, so query letters need to be short and amazing. These are the first thing we read in your submission, and generally give the push as to whether or not we are going to bother reading the rest of what you’ve submitted.

  • Also, to save your words, you don’t need to say that you’re looking for representation or publication. You’re querying agents and editors, so clearly we know you aren’t looking to order an extra large pepperoni pizza.

  • Lastly, don’t write your query letter as your character. First person query letters rarely turn out well. Most of the time, it’s a trainwreck. Query letters work best in third person. Literally, when it comes to query letters, it’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Be the rule, not the exception.”

Now, on to the actual query letter writing guide!

I break a query letter into 8 parts. They’re pretty simple and will generally keep you within the word count that’s appropriate. So here we go!

Part 1: Opening

This is a simple line that says, “Dear (Insert agent/editor’s name here),”

Be professional in your opening. Despite the fact that you’re a writer, don’t get super cute or think that writing, “Sup ______,” is an appropriate way to address an agent or editor in your submission. It’s not.

Part 2: The Hook

This is a 1-2 sentence paragraph that grabs the attention of the agent/editor and makes them HAVE to keep reading your query letter. The hook should also introduce the main character.

Part 3: Main Character Information

This is the paragraph where you’re going to give the agent/editor some more information and (back)story on your main character. Make us interested in him/her.

Part 4: The Conflict

What is your main character going through? This is the paragraph where you set up what your main character is dealing with. Stick to the main plot though. Don’t waste word count trying to get into all the sub-plots your might have going on. Also, this is the place to mention the love interest or antagonist.

Part 5: The Climax & Choices

The stakes. This paragraph is all about what is riding on your main character’s decision. This is the paragraph that matters the most in a query. Your stakes have to be high enough that it makes the agent/editor’s jaw drop in that “oh shit” moment. And for the love of all things good in the world, do NOT end this with a question. “Will Harry be able to defeat the dark lord or only save himself?” <—–NO! Do NOT do this? As an editor, this wants to make me scream. Don’t ask me questions. I haven’t read your manuscript yet, so I need you to show me that the stakes are so high that I HAVE to read this book. Make my jaw drop!

Part 6: Story Information

In this paragraph you should give the title of the manuscript, category, genre, and word count, along with any comp titles. (Example (which is completely made up) would be: THIS MADE UP BOOK is a young adult urban fantasy complete at 75,000 words and will appeal to fans of Percy Jackson and Divergent.”) This helps show us that you understand where you book fits in the market, though honestly try not to use multi-billion dollar sellers as your comp titles. Personally, I don’t like seeing titles like Harry Potter, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, ect. in the comp titles. Or things that say fans of “Stephen King or J.K. Rowling”. Just my opinion though.

Part 7: The Closing

A simple line that says, “Thank you for your time and consideration,”

Part 8: Author Information

Name, telephone number, email address–at the minimum so that we can get in touch with you!

**For author’s who have previous writing credits, membership to writing communities, or important educational information. And extra paragraph can be added between Part 6 and Part 7 that states this. (Example: “I have a Bachelor’s Degree from Yale in Creative Writing, and am a member of Romance Writer’s of America.”) Anyway, you get the point.

So that’s the query letter!

 

Now for the real eye roller. The boring, black and white version of the beloved book you’ve written. THE SYNOPSIS!

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Understand that for the most part, the synopsis is meant to be boring. This shows that you know how to actually tell a story from beginning to end, and though it may seem stupid, these are often requested and super important.

These I break down in the same fashion that your middle and high school English teacher used to make you break down the Hero’s Journey for the books you’ve read. Most books follow this path, so you can use this guide to fill in the blanks. Before we get started though, here are a few things to remember about writing a synopsis:

  • The first time you mention a character, their name should be in ALL CAPS. After the first time, you can write it normally. This helps the name stand out to us so that we remember it.

  • A synopsis should be 1-2 pages, but certainly no more than 3 pages. Most editors/agents as for a 1-3 page, so stay within that. Using this guide, you’ll probably end up at 1-2 pages.

Also, a few more things to keep in mind before writing your synopsis:

  1. In my opinion, you don’t need to mention EVERY character in your book. Honestly, the protagonist(s), antagonist(s), and the side kick/love interest are the only ones that need to be mentioned by proper name. Everyone else can be mentioned by title (i.e. Mother, teacher, his friend, ect.)

  2. You MUST tell the ending. Again, the entire point of this is to show you can actually tell a story from beginning to end, so if you don’t tell me the ending, I’m not sure you know how, which defeats the purpose.

  3. Stick to the main plots at first, and then if you have extra words and space you can mention subplots. However, subplots are not as important, so stick to the absolute need-to-know information first.

Okay, sheesh! Now, on to the Synopsis Writing Guide. Let’s do this!

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Paragraph 1 – Opening Image

This should be an image, setting, or concept that opens your novel. Think in terms of the beginning of Star Wars. The way they gave you that reel of set up at the beginning. That’s what you want to do. Where does your story start? What’s the first image the reader is going to get and why are they getting it?

Paragraph 2 – Protagonist Introduction

So, who s your main character or characters (for those of you that write dual POV novels)? Give a few descriptive words and let us know what your character wants in the beginning of the book. Is she a high school student just trying to make it to senior year? A badass detective with a reputation for flirting with the line of being considered a crooked cop, but really he’s in love with his sexy partner?

Paragraph 3 – The Inciting Incident

What event, decision, or change prompts the main character to initially take action, moving the plot forward? Is the cops partner shot, making her almost lose her life and him confess his love for her as he holds her bleeding in the street? Does the high school senior uncover a portal to another dimension, making senior year a hell of a lot more complicated? What sets this whole roller coaster ride in motion?

Paragraph 4 – Plot Point #1

This is the first “point of no return.” What action does the MC take or decision does she/he make that changes the course of the book? Once this happens, there is no undoing it.

Paragraph 5 – Conflicts & Character Encounters

Now that the MC is on a new path, they meet new people…including the antagonist. Tell us about that.

Paragraph 6 – Midpoint

We are halfway in, and something big happens here too! Here’s the 180 in the MC’s emotions, and the 2nd point of no return.

Paragraph 7 – The Almost Win

This is that moment in the novel when it seems as if our MC is going to prevail and get what they’ve been striving for, but oh no, a twist from the antagonist and our MC is left empty handed and possible worse off than before!

Paragraph 8 – Blackest Moment

We have this moment with every MC. That moment, after the Almost Win when they are at their lowest. What happens here and how do they find the strength to keep going for the rest of the novel?

Paragraph 9 – The Climax

The final conflict between the MC and the antagonist!

Paragraph 10 – Resolution

Does everyone live HEA? Is there a cliff hanger? Say hello to giving us your ENDING!

Paragraph 11 – Final Image

What is the last thing you show the reader before they close the book? Is it over? Have you set us up for a sequel? Are we cheering or crying our eyes out? What have you done to leave a lasting impression?

And now… you’re finished!

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I truly hope these guides help some writers out there!

As always, Much love to each and every one of you reading this! Until next time!

XoXo –C.L.